February 22, 2009 - 5:00 PM
Choral Evensong
Featuring music by American composers
Introit ~ Lehman, O Gracious Light
Responses ~ Neswick
Service ~ Callahan, The Harvard Service
Anthem ~ Candlyn, King of Glory


                Epiphany is the season of the Church year in which Jesus is revealed as Emmanuel:  through the worship of the Magi at his birth, by his baptism in the river Jordan, and in the performance of his first miracle at the wedding in Cana.  Today, the final Sunday after the Epiphany, is also known as the Feast of the Transfiguration because it commemorates the mountaintop moment when God unveiled, in the presence of the disciples, his Son’s divinity.  And so the music which the Anglican Singers perform this evening in an all-American program reflects the glory and wonder of those events.

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                The American composer Robert W. Lehman (b. 1960), who wrote a lyrical setting of the ancient Greek canticle O Gracious Light (Phos Hilaron), has a distinguished educational and professional background.  He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in organ and church music; he has served with distinction in a number of churches; he has performed as an organ soloist in many venues; and his compositions are regularly broadcast nationwide.

                The Preces and Responses that follow the Opening Sentences, and the Suffrages succeeding the Apostles’ Creed, were arranged by the talented young American organist, choral director and composer Bruce Neswick (b. 1956), a graduate of the Yale University School of Music and a fellow of the American Guild of Organists.  The harmonic structure and variety of Neswick’s setting are bold and sprightly, and suggestive throughout of the influence of jazz.

                New to the Singers’ repertoire is Charles Callahan’s Harvard Service (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis).  From Cambridge, Massachusetts (b. 1951), he is one of America’s leading organists and composers.  His many honors include being commissioned twice to compose music for Harvard University.  One of those occasions was the Silver Jubilee in 1995 of the Reverend Dr. Peter J. Gomes’ tenure as chaplain of The Memorial Church of Harvard.  Dr. Gomes (b. 1942), a native of Boston, is one of the most distinguished preachers of our time.  Overcoming the obstacles of growing up African-American in the ’fifties and ’sixties, he has applied moral suasion, through the spoken and written word, to influence and uplift generations of Harvard students – and countless others beyond those ivied halls.

                Callahan’s Magnificat is an intriguing piece of writing.  On paper it appears complex, with its several changes of key signature.  Yet it is neither jarring nor merely academic; indeed, the music is melodiously consonant with the text of Mary’s song of joy.  The Nunc dimittis segues seamlessly from its mysterious baritone solo opening into the sparkling, energetic choral section, before the repeat of the Gloria.

                Also a first for the Singers this evening is the anthem King of Glory, composed by T. Frederick H. Candlyn (1892-1964), a British transplant to American shores.  Aside from his career as a composer, notable in its own right, Dr. Candlyn is perhaps best remembered as the organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City who succeeded the eminent T. Tertius Noble (a fellow Briton), founder of the Choir School for Boys at St. Thomas in 1919.

                As a sad aside:  Candlyn, a veteran of World War I who served with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe from 1917 to 1919, lost his only son when the young man – nineteen years old – died heroically just months before the end of World War II in the ferocious Battle of the Bulge, as German troops drove Allied forces back through the French-Belgian sector of the Ardennes Forest.

                Candlyn’s setting of George Herbert’s (1593-1633) poem, so popular with composers and arrangers, is written for “mixed voices with soprano solo or youth choir.”  As the rubrics suggest, this is a piece of purity and lightness, perfect for clear treble voices supported by the three lower parts.  Enhancing that airy texture is the interlude of a soprano solo between the four-part first and third verses.

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These final days of Epiphany, with their lustrous images of light and transfiguration, are now drawing inescapably toward Ash Wednesday and Lent.  Yet just as the penitential season of Advent culminates in the joyous occasion of Christ’s birth, the somber weeks of Lent are fulfilled in that greatest of Christian feasts, Easter; and Epiphany is the bridge between the two.

Anne Carr Bingham

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